[SATELLITE 2023] What’s New in SatCom in The World’s Largest Sat Conference
SATELLITE 2023, one of the world’s largest satellite industry conferences, was held in Washington, D.C., March 13–16, 2023. Along with the Space Symposium held in April and the Smallsat Conference held in February, SATELLITE is one of the three most significant conference events in the U.S. satellite field, run for more than four decades by the satellite industry media “Via Satellite.”
With the world gradually recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s SATELLITE attracted about 14,000 people. Surprisingly, 1/3 of them were new attendees, a fact that clearly shows a large number of new companies entering the space field.
From Japan, companies such as Itochu Corporation, AGC, Yokogawa Electric Corporation, and Canon Inc. were newly seen this year. In addition, many companies are in the telecommunications industry, which indicates the proportion of industries in the satellite industry. With more than 300 booths from various companies, this is a very large-scale conference event that attracts people from all over the world.
With the attention of businesses from all over the world, many important announcements were made at SATELLITE 2023. Warpspace CSO and WARPSPACE USA CEO Hirokazu Mori also participated in a panel discussion telling the audience about the importance, benefits, and challenges of inter-satellite and satellite-to-ground optical communications. Warpspace was selected as one of “The 10 Hottest Satellite Companies in 2023” by Via Satellite, along with Rocket Lab and other prominent companies in the industry. This article provides a digest of the news announced at the conference and the panel discussion in which Mori participated.
(Click here for a report on SATELLITE 2022, which Mori attended last year.)
Satellite broadband service “Project Kuiper” announced by Amazon — What’s the difference with Starlink?
The first news item announced at SATELLITE 2023 was by Dave Limp, Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Devices and Services, regarding Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite broadband service.
Project Kuiper is Amazon’s satellite constellation plan to surround the Earth with more than 3,000 satellites starting in 2019. The goal is to make broadband communications available to 95% of all humans. The announcement stated that the first two prototype satellites would be launched in May of this year, that satellite manufacturing would begin in earnest in 2024, and that more than half of the constellation would be completed by mid-2026.
The most notable aspect of Project Kuiper is its integration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), a cloud service provided by Amazon. Limp said,
“Much of the information that Project Kuiper processes will be migrated to the AWS cloud. And once the information is moved to the cloud, it goes straight to the data center.”
He argued that this collaboration with AWS gives Project Kuiper a unique advantage over predecessors SpaceX and OneWeb in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation of communications satellites.
Will “Satellite Direct-to-Cell” Market Pave the Way for Satellite Communications Market?
The panel discussion “The Satellite-Cellular Convergence — A New Era for the Telco Industry?” brought together many satellite professionals to discuss “Satellite Direct-to-Cell,” which connects cell phones directly to satellites, enabling messaging and 4G and even 5G connectivity outside the cellular network.
The discussion included Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium Communications; Jonathan Hofeller, Vice President of Commercial Sales for SpaceX’s Starlink project; Charles Miller, CEO of Lynk Global; and others. Although these services, such as Satellite Direct-to-Cell, are slower than Amazon’s Project Kuiper and SpaceX’s Starlink, they allow cell phones to be connected directly to communications satellites, ultimately enabling customers worldwide to enjoy the benefits of cellular service.
Iridium Communications has partnered with Qualcomm, a mobile communications technology company, to bring two-way messaging to Android smartphones and other devices scheduled for release in late 2023. Lynk Global also has three satellites in Earth orbit and is seeking funding to deploy 1,000 satellites by 2025. Meanwhile, SpaceX announced in August that it could launch initial services starting with text messaging as early as 2024 when it announced a partnership in the U.S. to use cellular operator T-Mobile’s frequency bands for direct-to-device services.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of commercial sales for SpaceX’s Starlink, said
“SpaceX plans to begin testing a direct-to-smartphone service this year, which would benefit from SpaceX’s ability to rapidly deploy satellites over and over again (with reusable rocket technology such as Falcon 9).”
These presentations confirm the development of the emerging “Satellite Direct-to-Cell” market. At the same time, however, the panel also discussed conflicts with business models such as SpaceX’s “Starlink,” in which satellites communicate with ground antennas for customers. Of course, “Satellite Direct-to-Cell” has significant advantages in terms of portability, but its communication speed is not as fast as “Starlink. However, “Starlink” requires the customer to purchase and install an antenna. Thus, there is a trade-off between portability and communication speed. It was once again recognized that where the demand is as a market, and this is the key to future trends in the satellite communications market.
Warpspace selected as”The 10 Hottest Satellite Companies in 2023" and trends at SATELLITE 2023
The benefits and challenges of the optical communications industry were also discussed in a panel discussion titled “All About Laser: Optical Inter-Satellite Links and Space-to-Ground Communication.” The panel included Declan Ganley, CEO of Rivada Space Networks, a satellite communications provider; Tina Ghataore, CCO of Mynaric, a satellite communications equipment manufacturer; Justin Luczyk, General Manager of TESAT, another satellite communications equipment manufacturer, and Jean-François Morizur, CEO of Cailabs, an optical ground station operator, as well as our CSO, Mori. The panel discussed from the ground up why optical communications are attracting more attention than radio waves that have been in use for some time.
The importance of optical communications was confirmed from various aspects, such as its high communication speed compared to radio waves, low cost to communication speed due to easy miniaturization of terminals mounted on satellites and low power consumption, and security aspects, such as the difficulty of communications being intercepted.
On the other hand, there is a debate as to why optical communication, which at first glance appears to be a miraculous technology, has yet to be realized. The reasons were summarized as the problems in technology to compensate for the effects of atmospheric fluctuations in satellite-to-ground optical communications and in tracking technology to establish communications by pinpointing the destination when communicating between satellites and between satellites and the ground. It is difficult to see the advantages of optical communications and the challenges faced by the industry from the perspective of only communications terminal manufacturers and optical ground station operators. These issues should also be discussed, including aspects from the provider’s side, such as Warpspace and other operators. It is therefore expected that the industry as a whole will gain a better understanding of this issue.
SATELLITE 2023 had a great turnout with a record number of attendees. Warpspace had a strong presence at the panel discussion on optical communications and, as mentioned above, was selected by Via Satellite as one of “The 10 Hottest Satellite Companies in 2023,” along with Rocket Lab and others. Warpspace opened an office in Washington, D.C., and won the Innovation Showcase at the 2022 Japan-U.S. Innovation Awards Program. Actively communicating at other trade shows as well, Warpspace is steadily and successfully increasing its presence in the U.S. Warpspace will continue to take on international challenges in the developing market of space and space-to-ground optical communications.
Written by Junichiro Nakazawa